Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

Album Review: Colter Wall (self-titled)

Rating: 9/10

Eleven miles west of Dodge City, Kansas, on West Highway 50, otherwise in the middle of nowhere, there is a boardwalk and a historical marker to denote the place where over a century ago, wagons passed through on the Santa Fe Trail. If you stand there on that boardwalk in that relentless prairie wind and look out over the land, you can still see the ruts these wagons drove into the ground as countless people made their way to Santa Fe, and though so much time has passed, their stories are still etched into the prairie and echoing out of the past. Though you stand there in the 21st century, a piece of 1872 is still with you in those ruts, and there’s something about that that’s powerful and timeless.

It’s that same sort of feeling you get when you press play on this record, and Colter Wall starts to sing, with often little else but his guitar and some well-placed steel or drums to accompany a voice reminiscent of Johnny Cash and stories that seem to come pouring out of another place and time. From the opening words to “Thirteen silver dollars,” where we are invited in with, “It was a cold and cruel evening, sneaking up on speedy Creek, I found myself sleepin’ in the snow,” it’s an album of rambling and searching, more story than song, more folk than country, and more past than present. That remarkable voice will draw you in and remind you of earlier days in country, but it takes more than that to sell stories like these, especially in these modern days. It’s the conviction and emotion in these words that keeps you listening and makes it more than just a singer with a great, throwback voice, and rather a storyteller taking you on a journey. This particular journey includes hopping trains and sleeping in lonely motel rooms, and culminates in prison–and that’s just the front half. This half of the record ends in fine fashion with “Kate McCannon,” as Colter Wall sings from his prison cell about meeting “the prettiest girl in the whole damn holler” and then subsequently “courting” her and murdering her after finding her with someone else. This song builds and builds until the climactic line, “I put three rounds into Kate McCannon,” and you can feel all the pain and guilt of the song and whole first half of the album in that line.

I separate the album into halves because that’s exactly how Colter Wall presents it, and between the halves, there’s another slice of the past, as a DJ on the “Old Soul Radio show” is supposedly debuting Colter’s album, complete with static and background noise before he “flips the record over.” I can see how people would love or hate this moment, but it does serve to add another vintage element to the album, and it also breaks the record nicely into two parts, providing a break after the intensity of “Kate McCannon.”

The back half of the album is just slightly weaker, at least for me, as I’m still not really getting into the song “You Look To Yours.” If there’s any filler on this record, it would be this song. Here we have two nice covers, Townes Van Zandt’s “Snake Mountain Blues,” which serves nicely as the opener to the second half, as well as the excellent “Fraulein,”–originally done by Bobby Helms, but also previously performed by Townes–featuring Tyler Childers. These two are excellent together; Childers adds some high harmony and some great contrast to Wall’s bass, and they should sing together more. Townes Van Zandt is a fitting artist for Colter Wall to cover on this album because his songs work well with the images and stories portrayed here. Some of the best songwriting on the record can be found on “Transcendent Ramblin’ Railroad Blues” and “Bald Butte.” The former is more of, well, exactly what the title says, but this one stands out for its lines like, “If I don’t leave here tomorrow, I believe I’ll blow out my brains. But either way, there’ll be sorrow, you won’t be seeing me again.” The latter is a story straight out of the past, as we are told the tale of Henry, who had his horse and rifle stolen by some Southerners and sought revenge, only to be shot. The details and imagery in this one are impressive.

I mentioned before that there’s not much to accompany Colter Wall here usually except his guitar. Sometimes there’s some steel and sometimes some drums, which certainly do a lot for “Bald Butte.” For people that knew Colter wall before this and enjoyed his debut EP, Imaginary Appalachia, this could be a good or bad thing–that EP had much more interesting instrumentation and production, often with lively fiddles. I think some of that could have helped this record in places, and having Dave Cobb as the producer is certainly to blame for this. Having said that, personally, for this particular record, I think Dave Cobb handled it excellently, getting out of the way of Colter wall and his stories and letting them speak for themselves. I do think that going forward, Colter will have to expand his sound–we saw with Stapleton’s record that it wasn’t as interesting production wise as Traveller. But as far as this record goes, I don’t have any major complaints with the production. And for me, it’s actually quite an improvement from Imaginary Appalachia for Colter Wall himself, as on that EP, I felt he was singing too often in higher registers; this record shows off much of his lower range which suits his voice, as well as these songs. I would say that while he may be still developing his sound and style, he’s also come quite a long way in that aspect on this album. So I agree the concerns of production are valid, but something we should hold off on for the 21-year-old Wall until his next project.

There’s also the concern that by singing in this throwback, sometimes dated style that Colter Wall could develop into a niche performer, and that’s also something I’d argue it’s too early to speculate about. If it turns out to be the case, I’m proud to be one of the throwback types that enjoys this music. if not, I think there’s a conviction and heart in Colter that, combined with that kind of voice, can impact people on a much larger scale. I see a tremendous amount of potential in this 21-year-old Canadian folk singer, and only time will tell if he lives up to that potential. For now, this is a pretty incredible album, and rather than speculating on Colter’s future, we should all just go listen to it.

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Reflecting on: Johnny Cash–Silver

Let’s get this out in the open; my knowledge of country prior to 1990 is sketchy, and prior to 1980 it is pretty terrible. This is one of the reasons for the reflection pieces in the first place. Ever since I heard “Gold All Over the Ground,” I wanted to dig through the catalogue of Johnny Cash, and then, coincidentally, I was sent the recommendation “On the Evening Train” by my boyfriend Rob–that comes from a much later album, so I started working my way through that, and then I heard “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” also coincidentally, which led me to Silver. I’ve been expressly informed that this isn’t the “most accurate representation of Johnny Cash,” and I’m sure that’s correct because I don’t have much of an idea, but I really enjoyed this one, so I thought I’d share it with you all.

Release Date: 1979
Style: some traditional country, some blues, Apple Music mentions it being more mainstream which is probably why it might not be the most accurate representation of Cash
Who Might Like This Album: Johnny Cash fans, fans of country influenced with soul and blues, fans of story songs and imagery
Standout Tracks: “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,” “Cocaine Blues,” “West Canterbury subdivision Blues,” “Muddy Waters,” “I’ll Say It’s True,” “I’m Gonna Sit on the Porch and Pick on my Old Guitar”
Reflections: Well, this is the first album that I have discovered doing this, as opposed to revisiting one and greeting songs like old friends. This was a new kind of experience, like listening to a new album, but in a different way, as if I’d found something that had been lost. As I say, there is a lot of bluesy influence in these songs, and I really enjoyed that style. The imagery is great, especially in “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” and “West Canterbury subdivision blues,” where the narrator sings about leaving his “queen” behind in their “castle” too much, “and that was no way to leave her.” Eventually, another man came along and “plucked my grapes from the vine.” I love the metaphors in this one, and listening to songs from this era really paints a picture of how far the quality of mainstream songwriting has slipped. There are some more traditional tracks too, like the humorous “I’ll Say It’s True,” with George Jones, and the closer, “I’m Gonna Sit on the Porch and Pick on my Old Guitar.” It’s a nice mix of styles, and overall, this album was just a really enjoyable listen that I know I will keep coming back to.

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Album Review: Brad Paisley Gets Back to Himself on Love and War

Rating: 7.5/10

I won’t waste your time with a lot of introduction to this because you all know Brad Paisley, and most likely you’ve already formed an opinion. I’ve heard a lot of different takes on this album, but the one that sums it up the best is whatever your previous opinion of Brad was, this record’s not going to change it. So if you think he’s just that guy who did “Whiskey Lullaby” and maybe some other great songs early in his career and then killed his legacy with joke songs, I suggest you stop reading this review. If you’re like me, and you think he is one of the mainstream’s best, and maybe you were disappointed in the direction he went after This is Country Music, I’m happy to say what we get on Love and War is mostly a nice return to form for Brad Paisley.

There are sixteen songs on this album, and the main problem is not necessarily terrible songs, it’s just that there is too much filler–Josh of Country Perspective would have called it “wallpaper.” The unfortunate thing about it is that most of the wallpaper comes on the front half, and for that reason, as well as the fact that there’s just so much here, I’ll get to the highlights first.

Without a doubt, the shining moment on Love and War is “Gold All Over the Ground,” a poem written by Johnny Cash in the 1960’s that Brad Paisley lovingly set to music and performed excellently. My words can’t do justice to the poetry of Johnny Cash, and this one is the one you should make it a point to hear. It flows effortlessly into “Dying to See Her,” another great love song featuring Bill Anderson and telling the story of a man who has been going downhill since his wife died; the doctors can’t figure out why, but he is literally “dying to see her.” Together, these two songs make an outstanding moment on the record. These two are sandwiched between two collaborations with yes, Timbaland–I said it on Twitter, but I’ll say it again, if you have a problem listening to Paisley’s record because of Timbaland, this is unfortunate and, frankly, stupid. “Grey Goose Chase,” in fact, is one of the best songs; it’s fun and slightly bluegrass-inspired and sees the narrator going on the “grey goose chase” to drink away an ex. The other Timbaland contribution, “Solar Power Girl,” isn’t as strong, but that’s not due to Timbaland, it’s due to the lyrics. It’s about a girl who is escaping a bad home life which is compared to darkness and rain for college and a new, bright world where she can be a “solar power girl.” This one isn’t a highlight, but it’s not bad, and either way, Timbaland being a part of this album in no way brings it down…but I digress.

The title track is another strong collaboration, this time with John Fogerty, about our soldiers and how little the country does for them when they return home. It’s something that needs to be addressed, and too often in country, it’s simply patriotic songs and odes to fallen troops. This is a reality that shouldn’t be overlooked. There’s also a collaboration with Mick Jagger, the fun, upbeat “Drive of Shame” that details the embarrassing morning after a night in Vegas.

Speaking of fun songs, Brad Paisley is certainly known for them, for better or worse, and I have to say, “Selfie#theinternetisforever” is definitely better. I am biased because I have serious issues with social media and the people glued to their phones and taking selfies of everything, but this song is just great. Another humorous moment that works is “One Beer Can,” where Brad tells the hapless story of Bobby, who cleaned up everything after a party while his parents were away–but still got grounded because he left one beer can behind the couch.

Now, as I mentioned, there’s some wallpaper/filler and some songs that could have just been left off without effect. “Heaven South” is not the worst album opener of 2017, but it’s definitely the most unfortunate–it’s checklist-ish and boring even if it’s harmless and inoffensive. I’m still not getting onboard with “Today,” the lead single–honestly, it’s just too underdeveloped and too sappy. It’s very generic and yeah, it’s not bad, but on a sixteen-song album I could do without it. Brad attempts to be sexy in “Go to Bed early” and, to a lesser extent, in “Contact High,” and for me, that just fails, so neither of these songs do anything for me. I will say “Contact High” does feature some very nice guitar play by Paisley, as does a lot of this record, which was somewhat lacking on his last couple albums, so that’s another nice return to himself. The biggest problem is that every song I just mentioned is on the front half of the album, so it is just a little unfortunate.

There’s one track on the back half that admittedly I just hate, and I can’t be completely unbiased about it. This is “The Devil is Alive and Well.” Now, for any of you who read Country Music Minds, you all know Leon does what he would call “philosophical rambling” on quite a frequent basis, and he is a lot better at it than I am. Anyway, he summed up nicely why I hate it in his review of this, and if you want a more concise, eloquent explanation, I suggest you read that. but basically, the song mentions all the evil in the world and the chorus states that whether or not we believe in heaven and hell, “I bet we can agree that the devil is alive and well.” The message itself is good, but it isn’t executed well; it explains the evil, and later says that “god is love” but doesn’t really do much to talk about God doing his part to combat evil. I don’t want to ramble on about this because it’s a completely personal reason and difference of philosophy that makes me hate this song, but honesty comes first here at Country exclusive, and that was my immediate reaction to the song and remains my opinion after several listens.

Overall, I’m glad to see that Brad Paisley is back to being Brad Paisley. Take that as you will; this record won’t change your mind about him, but if you were hesitant to buy this because his last two records were somewhat disappointing, rest assured that he’s back to doing what he does best which is just being himself. And if you were hesitant to buy this because of Timbaland, just stop.

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Album Review: Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard–Django and Jimmie

Rating: 9.5/10

On June 2nd, before Country Exclusive came into existence, two country legends released a collaboration album entitled Django and Jimmie. Like several other earlier albums I have covered, this one certainly deserves a review. It hit #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums Chart and has held its own well against several radio-supported albums that have come out since. It is currently also at #11 on the Americana Airplay Chart. (I don’t know what the world is coming to when Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are considered Americana, and Thomas Rhett’s latest single is considered country, but whatever.) Chart performance aside, however, this album deserves a review if for no other reason than it was released by two living legends. It reminds us that country radio can continue down the path to hell, but there will always be good country music being made. Modern country fans, I urge you to give this album a listen and appreciate these living legends while they are still with us.

The album’s title track and opener is a tribute to Django Reinhardt and Jimmie Rodgers, Willie and Merle’s inspirations. They sing, “There might not have been a Merle or a Willie if not for Django and Jimmie.” By the way, there are two things that immediately hit me from the start of this record; their friendship and musical chemistry is palpable, and their voices, though seasoned, are still great. Next is a fun, upbeat little song called “It’s All Going to Pot,” that hopefully I don’t need to elaborate on if you know anything about Willie Nelson. The instrumentation in this song, much like the rest of the album, is great, and some awesomeness is added to the song by its release date of April 20th.

The album turns serious on “Unfair Weather Friend,” a song about the ones who are there for us during life’s hardest times. This song is made better coming from Willie and Merle, whom I am sure have been there for each other throughout their lives. They pay tribute to another friend in “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash,” a humorous ode to the Man in Black in which they share personal stories and memories. My favorit part of this album is here–Merle asks Willie if he knows anything about Cash, and Willie replies, “Well, yeah, I know a lot of things about Cash, I’m not sure I should talk about it. But I checked with John and asked if it was okay and he said he didn’t give a shit. One time he took a casket up to his hotel room and got into it and called room service. I thought that was pretty funny.” This is just awesome.

“Live This Long” sees the two legends looking back on their lives and reflecting that they might not have lived as hard if they had known they’d live this long. I’m not sure how serious this is and whether they really would have changed one bit about the way they lived. “Alice in Hulaland” is about a fan who goes to all of a band’s shows. They speculate, “Are you there for the melody, there for the lyric, or just for the boys in the band?” It’s a nice, lighthearted track with plenty of steel guitar that I was surprised to have enjoyed so much. Next is an excellent cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” a song dealing with a bad relationship where they say “don’t think twice, it’s all right” as they leave. All I can say is take note, mainstream country artists, this is how to do a cover. It fits them perfectly and works well on the album.

“Family Bible” features Merle primarily and is a song reflecting back on childhood memories of his family reading the Bible together. This is extremely relatable and feels like hearing your grandparents’ memories, only in a song. It borrows a little of the melody from the hymn “Rock of Ages,” and I could picture my uncle singing this at his piano. I think it will connect with others in similar ways. “It’s Only Money” works well after this song–it’s an up-tempo song with the premise, “It’s only money, it will go away.” It’s nice to hear this from these two, and I don’t think it was placed after “Family Bible” by accident. Also, there is a saxophone in this song that just works beautifully, as well as some outstanding country piano playing. Next, they nail Merle’s hit “Swinging Doors,” where a man hangs out in a bar because he doesn’t feel welcome at home. Mainstream country artists, this is how to sing a heartbreak/drinking song. (Cole Swindell, I am looking right at “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey” here.)

“Where Dreams Come to Die” is an intriguing song about just that–the place where hopes and dreams are shattered. This is one of the “deeper” songs on the album, but it was easy to connect with for me, and I think many more will be able to relate to it as well. “Somewhere Between” is just Willie, which I find a little perplexing and out of place on a Willie/Merle album. Still, it’s a good heartbreak song in which Willie says there’s a wall “somewhere between” him and the woman he loves, with a “door without any key.” This is a good song with some excellent songwriting, but I would have liked it even better if Merle had joined in. It’s hard to say exactly what “Driving the Herd” is about, but I think “the herd” is the people at the shows. Merle and Willie talk about singing and playing from the heart while they’re “driving the herd.” My interpretation could be totally wrong, but even if so, the song has some of the best instrumentation and vocals on the whole album. The album closes with “The Only Man Wilder Than Me,” where the two friends sing of each other; each calls the other “the only man wilder than me.” It’s a great way to close this album of friendship.

Overall, Django and Jimmie is an excellent album. Willie Nelson is 82, and Merle Haggard is 78, yet their voices, though they sound seasoned, don’t reflect their ages at all. The songwriting on this album is stellar, yet still simple and relatable. This is what country music is all about. If someone asks you what “country” means, you can point to this album–simple arrangements, relatable songwriting, and great storytelling. One of the best albums of the year so far.

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